Perceptions and Realities

It is said that no single person holds the whole truth on any given issue or situation – because, subconsciously, everyone seeks the “truth” that works for them.

It is the same in religion as it is in politics. 

In my family, the statement “You have your thoughts on the issue, and I have mine,” rarely results in the fuzzy-wuzzy notion that those holding differing opinions can ‘agree to disagree.’  In fact, it usually precedes a knock-down-drag-out argument to prove who is right and who is wrong. 

So, how many conflicting versions of the “truth” can there be?

The fact is an individual’s understanding of an issue is filtered through their unique experiences, observations, and beliefs – and perception quickly becomes reality. 

For instance, having spent the bulk of my adult life in municipal government, I equate my point-of-view to that of a veteran proctologist – we’ve both seen our share of suppurating assholes – and it has skewed my interpretation of most aspects of local governance. . .

But, I must admit, on rare occasions government works hard to level the playing field and permit options that enhance the marketplace.

Last week, I wrote a piece critical of Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s rush to help the owners of short-term rental properties in Bethune Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea avoid code enforcement sanctions until amended regulations can be established for all unincorporated areas of the county.   

I didn’t disagree with the action taken – I took exception to the fact that our elected officials moved on a controversial issue that was not on the agenda. 

But the decision was not mine to make, and Chairman Brower has stood firm – logically defending his choice and judgement to his constituents and his colleagues. 

Look, I wholeheartedly support the rights of short-term rental owners to enjoy the benefits of this incredibly popular industry while contributing to our economy in many important ways – and I understand Chairman Brower’s desire to move this important issue forward, bringing it out of the molasses-like bureaucratic sludge to provide property owners with clarity – and hope.      

Some loyal readers of this blogsite saw Mr. Brower’s entreaty on behalf of property owners as the right thing to do, while others have expressed differing opinions on the controversial practice that is, in some areas, dividing neighborhoods.   

Property owners trying desperately to save their vacation rental business, private property rights versus community standards, “quality of life” issues at the nexus of a notorious ‘party house’ and the peace and quiet of someone’s retirement dream, some following the rules while others flaunt them, absentee owners versus professionally managed properties, neighbor against neighbor.      

Different perceptions – different realities – literally depending upon which side of the street you are on.

When done right, short-term rentals can improve the experience of visitors and increase property values – something desperately needed in our core tourist area.

In fact, most vacation rentals are the most well-maintained homes on the block.      

Many owners have put considerable time, money, and effort into renovating dilapidated properties – turning eyesores into prosperous jewels that enhance the visual aesthetics of our community, and the benefits to Volusia County and the municipalities in an era of dwindling tourist tax revenues is self-evident. 

In my view, it is right and fair that Volusia County (and the City of Daytona Beach) join the rest of the free world in embracing peer-to-peer rentals – and to hell with the empty protestations of the dispirited hotel/motel cabal – many of whom have allowed their beachside product to wither and rot, contributing to the blight and sense of hopelessness that pervades much of our core tourist area.

Now, Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County has launched an urgent appeal to area hoteliers under the battle flag “This is a blow to ya business” (seriously, I didn’t make that up), asking his membership to turn out in force at the March 2, 2021 Volusia County Council meeting to oppose allowing short-term rentals outside arbitrarily defined “tourist zones.”

In my view, if Daytona Beach area hotels cannot be successful in this new age of vacation options – perhaps they should rethink how best to compete in a changing tourist economy and understand that a free and open marketplace begins with creating a demand – a product or service that consumers want – that creates competition leading to innovation and constant improvement across the industry.

In my view, that begins when government, and their friends in the hotel/motel industry, stop the strong-arm tactics and permit a level playing field.

When my wife and I travel, we invariably use vacation rentals, because even recognized chain hotels can be hit or miss these days – and we enjoy seeing new places like a local.    

Last fall, Patti and I rented a quaint cottage on a beautiful lake near Thomasville, Georgia.

The very first communication we had with the owner said, “Be aware that sound travels across the water, and you will be asked to immediately vacate the property if we receive ONE noise complaint.”

The ground rules were that simple.  Be a good neighbor – or get out.  Now.   

And therein lies the solution – fair but firm regulations that clearly define the rights and obligations of owners, booking platforms, and guests of vacation rentals – including strong provisions for protecting the quality of life in neighborhoods where short-terms rentals are located.   

These ordinances should include a mandatory code of conduct preventing nuisance conditions, such as excessive noise, damage to property, parking, number of occupants, violent or threatening behavior, and an assurance that property owners or managers are readily available to ensure that complaints are dealt with quickly. 

Perhaps in Florida, where tourism is such a vitally important part of our economy, uniform regulations that ensure consistency and set reasonable standards for owners and guests should be developed by the state legislature with enforcement responsibility delegated to local governments? 

In my view, it is time for local governments to repeal Draconian regulations that effectively limit vacation rentals to “tourist districts” and other subjective geographical boundaries – legislation that is contrary to the notion of fair trade – and stop the onerous enforcement actions and crippling fines that crush small business owners and limit vacation options for families who chose to spend their disposable income in the Daytona Beach Resort Area and beyond.

If you feel strongly, as I do, that short-term vacation rentals deserve a place in our community and economy, please consider making your voice heard – and attend the March 2 Volusia County Council meeting at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand beginning at 10:00am.   

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Angels & Assholes for February 19, 2021

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.

Angel              Retired Motorsports Editor Godwin Kelly

I have a natural affinity for anyone who stands out from the rest.

Masters of their craft, who, through hard work, loyalty, persistence, and dedication, reach the summit of their profession and thrive in that rarified air where passion and skill become art.

I know nothing of journalism – and even less about sports writing – but I enjoy both when done right.  Those of us who came up reading The Daytona Beach News-Journal in its prime were fortunate to have Godwin Kelly reporting. 

For 44 years, Mr. Kelly served as a staff sportswriter and motorsports editor for the News-Journal, covering four decades of Daytona 500’s during his stellar career.  Most important, both current and former News-Journal reporters have praised his innate willingness to assist and mentor up-and-coming colleagues on the intricacies of racing and reportage. 

In my view, mentorship – reaching down and lending a helping hand to those who are building their skills and climbing the ladder is the mark of a true professional – and clearly Godwin Kelly was an outstanding ambassador for his profession.

And his product was second-to-none.  

To the collective loss of readers and race fans everywhere, Mr. Kelly took up the rocking chair last November. 

Last week, the France family appropriately honored Mr. Kelly’s contributions to NASCAR and the iconic Daytona International Speedway by dedicating the work room inside the Speedway’s infield media center as the “Godwin Kelly Deadline Room.”

During a short ceremony at DIS, Speedway President Chip Wile said:

“For 40 years you have been an incredible ambassador for Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR,” said Wile, who credited NASCAR’s ruling France family for deciding on the honor. “You’ve been an incredible journalist and mentor to a lot of folks, including myself.”

A fitting tribute to the extraordinary legacy of a legend. 

Angel               Beachside Residents & Merchants

“It’s not Daytona.  It’s Dirtona,” said Enrique Zahn, an east International Speedway Boulevard property owner since the early 1990s who has grown weary waiting for things to improve on the road.”

“We are nobody,” Zahn said.  “It’s controlled by the powerfuls.”

–Enrique Zahn, Daytona Beach, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Daytona’s east ISB overhaul 3 years away,” Monday, January 27, 2020

I recently wrote a piece regarding the good efforts of Duane Winjum, general manager of The Plaza Resort, who is partnering with the hotel’s owners and management company to stimulate positive change on Seabreeze Boulevard.

As loyal readers of these screeds know, I tend to take a polemical view of our situation here on the Fun Coast, often playing devils advocate on proposed solutions, and challenging the motivations of those who seek to save us from ourselves.

But a very smart friend of mine made perhaps the most cogent summation of our decades old issue of beachside blight and neglect when he blamed the persistent stupidity of our “movers and shakers” and those redevelopment officials who serve them – those who we have placed our money and trust in – who have fallen into a habitual, entrenched way of “doing things” that has gotten us so off track that there is no logical path back.

I agree. 

We have lost our way – and it is evident that there is no one in a position of influence who seems interested in trying anything other than the failed “that’s the way we have always done it” strategy. 

I have long held the belief that any substantive change to our decomposing core tourist area will come from entrepreneurial investment – like the efforts of Dr. Charles Duva to improve the look and feel of our disastrous East International Speedway Boulevard – individuals who are willing to bring their talent, vision, and money to transforming the current paradigm.

That requires a high level of support from local government and the community to establish an attractive environment for private investors – innovators with the right set of eyes – who see beyond the blight and dilapidation to the beauty and potential of our beleaguered beachside.

Unfortunately, beachside merchants from the Seabreeze Entertainment District to Main Street and the East ISB Gateway, have been ignored and maligned by City and County officials – victimized by reverse blame and made to feel like an afterthought – while millions in public funds are lavished on all the right last names in places like Beach Street, or on Boomtown Boulevard off the LPGA corridor. 

Don’t take my word for it.   

Anyone remember the wasted time and effort of the Halifax area’s greatest thinkers who served admirably on the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee?  

Please don’t be too hard on yourself – no one else does either. . . 

That’s because it has been almost three-years since the committee, which was formed in the aftermath of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé on the deplorable condition of our core tourist area, presented its bureaucratically neutered findings to the Volusia County Council.

In the view of many, the BRC – comprised of heavy hitters with names like Albright, Bowler, Ghyabi, Lichtigman, Sharples, Grippa, and Henry – represented our last/best hope for substantive change.

Unfortunately, when the group’s report was rolled out, Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler brought a cruel false hope when she enthusiastically vowed that the recommendations (of what turned out to be little more than a time-buying political insulation committee) would not be put on a shelf:

“I am fighting with you on this,” Wheeler said. “This is my district, and we do have a plan of action but I want to make sure it is not one of those plans of actions that goes on the shelf, and I can tell you I am 100% committed to doing whatever I need to do in collaborating with this group on getting things moving.”

Bullshit.

Where is that “plan of action” you promised, Ms. Wheeler? 

Beachside residents and businessowners are desperate – and still waiting. . .

I’ll bet the BRC report is yellowing on a dusty shelf in a dead records morgue in DeLand – right next to the 2011 tourism study – wherein the Volusia County Council paid $100,000 to an out-of-state consultant to conduct a review which concluded that our beachside “tourism product” was a serious impediment to attracting visitors and economic development, citing, “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.”

 “Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline.  An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”  

 Ah, ten years on and that “Leadership and Vision” thing is still biting us on the ass. . . 

Let’s face it, the list of those who have accepted public funds then dashed our hopes on the rocks of incompetency, crushed the dreams of entrepreneurial investors, erected bureaucratic obstructions, regulated anything fun out of business, or turned their backs when small business needed help is long and distinguished.

My hope is that visionaries like Duane Winjum, and long-suffering residents and businessowners who have staked their financial future on returning our beachside to its former (and potential) glory, are given the tools necessary to see their dreams become a reality. 

Perhaps that takes the form of government simply getting out of their way – assuming a support role – and removing the entrenched bureaucratic impediments, the use of strategic rot, and the anti-business philosophy that have resulted in economic stagnation and a pervasive sense of hopelessness. 

In my view, beachside residents and merchants deserve better. 

Asshole           Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler

I like to say that the Volusia County Council put the “fun” in dysfunctional.

You can bet whenever that group gets together to plot our future, there will be buffoonery afoot.  

Fortunately, under the fledgling stewardship of Chairman Jeff Brower, change is coming – slowly but surely.      

Make no mistake, the entrenched status quo is alive and thriving at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – and it does not appear that mindset is going away anytime soon. 

Volusia County voters spoke loud and clear – screaming in unison our fervent demand for substantive change in the manner and means by which our elected officials serve our interests – returning power to the citizens who pay the bills over the wants of an entrenched oligarchy that has steamrolled their personal agenda for far too long.   

The difficulty of that transformation was evident during Tuesday’s “priorities session” when several of Mr. Brower’s colleagues gave him a good old-fashioned locksocking for having the temerity to speak out and work towards returning beach driving behind the Hard Rock Daytona. 

You know, like he said he would during his hard-fought campaign?

Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – clearly the most disingenuous of the seven on the dais of power – caviled and screeched about Chairman Brower’s plain-talk on the toxic poles used to block vehicular access on 410’ of the strand that was given away by Ms. Wheeler and others as a cheap “inducement” to the developer. 

As everyone paying attention knows, Mr. Brower has vehemently condemned the use of these “poison poles” since they were driven into the sand three-years ago – but Ms. Wheeler saw the need to raise the specter of legal action and yammer about the potential fallout of insulting the beneficiary of the traffic free beach – suggesting that Mr. Brower’s meeting with the Hard Rock’s owner and management was somehow out of line. 

In response to Chairman Brower’s February 4 meeting with Abbas Abdulhussein, Ms. Wheeler hemmed and hawed – dancing around the issue with her typical histrionics – dramatically asking counsel if the individual comments of council members could place the county in legal peril because they speak their mind on an issue.   

Finally, Chairman Brower asked Wheeler to get to the point.

“It was the Hard Rock, because I know there was lawsuit threats going everywhere,” Wheeler explained. “I just wanted to make it clear that when we’re out there and we’re making statements we need to make sure that they understand that this is my opinion and not the council’s.”

My ass. 

There were no “lawsuit threats going everywhere” (Did you hear of any threats?  Did the county receive any?) – it was a ham-handed attempt by Wheeler to muzzle Chairman Brower as a means of protecting the status quo – while deflecting from the embarrassing issue of how a group of elected sneakthieves stole our public beach access in the first place. 

It was never about poles or speaking out of turn – it was about Councilwoman Wheelers desire to publicly humiliate Chairman Brower for going against the grain. 

After taking it on the chin for doing what the others would not in working to solve a controversial issue to the benefit of his long-suffering constituents – Chairman Brower rightfully responded, “If I embarrassed anybody on here, I apologize. But I don’t apologize for my principles.” 

Stay in your lane, Councilwoman Wheeler.  Your abject stupidity is staggering.

The long-suffering citizens of Volusia County will no longer tolerate the foot-dragging stagnation, fawning reverence for the “Rich & Powerful” insiders, and the sycophantic defense of the indefensible that compromised lickspittles like Billie Wheeler seek to perpetuate.  

It is no secret that Jeff Brower supports beach driving – or that he promised to get out of the gilded council chamber and work in the best interests of everyone – not just the well-heeled few who so generously donate to the political campaigns of Ms. Wheeler and other political marionettes to ensure access to the public trough.      

I have no doubt Chairman Brower will continue his outstanding efforts to return cars to that stolen section of beach – just as he promised during his successful campaign – regardless of what the wholly out-of-touch and horribly meanspirited Billie Wheeler thinks. 

Whatever. 

In my view, the “priorities” workshop (what little I could stomach of it) was a bad joke – something I and others found terribly disappointing.

Absent Councilwoman Heather Post’s futile demand for time-certain movement on defined action items – the council’s “priorities” seem tailormade for the kind of watered-down bureaucratic nonsense that allows a few do-nothing department heads to ramble on in governmentese – putting everyone under the ether until their babble lulls the elected officials and spectators into a coma – carefully crafting their message to ensure that nothing changes – and no one is held accountable.

The broad stroke list included a jumble of ill-defined and imprecise buzzwords like “affordable/workforce housing,” “social justice/Infrastructure (?),” “economic development,” “Permitting process; Code enforcement; Staff retention,” and the ever popular, “future growth.”

No who, what, when, where, why and how – nothing that could be construed as remotely actionable. 

Just more non-specific horseshit – with no performance metrics or delegation of individual responsibility – just the timewasting drone of more presentations, workshops, and interminable gum-bumping. . . 

More “staff input needed.”  No thinking required.  No one held to account. 

Ever.

Perhaps it is time for our elected officials to get off their collective ass, provide clear direction, and demand that County Manager Recktenwald and his senior staff do more than force-feed them PowerPoint sedatives that accomplish nothing. 

What a damnable disappointment.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. . .

Angel              Coach George Butts, Atlantic High School

From the Barker’s View Sports Desk:

High School coaches are a special breed. 

Through blood, sweat, and tears they give their all to mold their impressionable young players into better people – challenging them, expanding their limitations, positively impacting their academic and athletic performance – and inspiring them to become winners in life

In Volusia County, we have been extraordinarily blessed to have one of the best in service to our children.  

Here’s a heartfelt congratulations to Atlantic High School’s Girls Basketball Coach George Butts on the culmination of an incredibly successful 25-year coaching career and 36-years with Volusia County Schools!

During Coach Butt’s legendary career, he led the Sharks to four district championships and three Final Fours – celebrating his 500th win early last year – earning his place among fewer than 20 coaches in state history to reach that milestone.  

In addition, Coach Butt’s holds the distinction of fostering the college and professional careers of many standout players, to include ten-time Volusia County Player of the Year Ronni Williams, 2004 Olympian Athena Ghristoforakis, McDonald’s All-American Kimberly Manning, and All State players Jermisha McCrae, D’Asia Smalls, and Abedemi Agboola. 

Kudos to Coach Butts on his stellar 505-171 career record – and for serving as an incredibly positive role model, mentor, and counsellor to his players – both on and off the court. 

All best wishes for a healthy and happy retirement, Coach! 

Quote of the Week

“Daytona Beach, Port Orange and St. Augustine’s ordinances are not blanket panhandling bans. They target zones where there are real health and safety concerns. Port Orange officials estimate that only 4% of the city is impacted — places like the doorways of commercial establishments, restaurant drive-ins, bus stops, automated teller machines, daycare centers, schools and especially intersections where drivers are trapped at stoplights. And no street begging after dark.

These ordinances speak for themselves, both in the careful documentation of the public complaints leading up to their enactment and the dramatic street-level effects after they went into effect.”

–Columnist Mark Lane, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Daytona Beach’s successful panhandling law forcing neighbors to do the same,” Tuesday, February 16, 2021

And Another Thing!

No one supports the concept of short-term rentals more than me. 

In fact, I have written, cajoled, and lobbied extensively for the rights of property owners to market and enjoy the benefits of private peer-to-peer rentals without facing Draconian enforcement actions, exorbitant fines, and business-crushing penalties on the whim of craven elected officials who are totally beholden to special interests in our failing, but politically influential, hospitality industry. 

I was also a vocal champion of the candidacy of Volusia County Council Chairman Jeff Brower – using this space to promote his platform, urging friends to donate money to his campaign, and asking family members to wave signs and generate community support – I even spoke on his behalf at a political rally – something I rarely do. 

I believed in Jeff Brower.  I still do. 

But when he takes official action that I disagree with – I am going call him out – because anything less would be dishonest and unfair.   

In my view, on Tuesday, we witnessed Chairman Brower fall victim to political inexperience and engage in a political tactic many have railed against for years: The establishment of public policy by ambush.

The spur-of-the-moment adoption of controversial ‘surprise party’ resolutions – off-the-agenda legislation that eliminates citizen input and strategically inhibits an open and honest review of all sides of an issue.

That is wrong – regardless of whose ox is being gored.

Anyone remember the righteous outcry over the surprise maneuvering that led to the Hard Rock beach driving ban?

I know Chairman Brower does. . . 

This week, the Volusia County Council heard impassioned pleas from owners of vacation rentals in Bethune Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea – all lamenting enforcement action for violating short term rental regulations – including tales of code enforcement officers interrogating children, and fears of losing their livelihoods during the approaching special events season.

It was clear from the outset that the owners had the full support of the council.

The bold handwriting was on the wall – and seasoned members understood (without saying it) that the County Manager was savvy enough to ensure that the prosecution of short-term rental regulations was put on the backburner until the legal department could work their magic.

Everyone except Chairman Brower, that is. . . 

During discussion, Chairman Brower took the unusual step of ignoring the very ground rules recently established by our “new” council and called for a “short circuit” of the legislative process – asking for a “voluntary” halt to enforcement action (an off-the-cuff “moratorium” that Billie Wheeler giddily endorsed) – and calling for the county attorney to fast track an amended short term rental ordinance for discussion and official action in two weeks.   

His return to the ‘bad old days’ of political sleight-of-hand – unannounced votes taken after hearing only one side of a controversial issue, with no opportunity for everyone affected by the decision to be heard – shocked some of his colleagues on the dais of power.

It blindsided me as well.

To their credit, Councilmen Ben Johnson and Danny Robins spoke eloquently about the concept of taking the time to “do it right” – the need to hear all sides of the issue – rejecting a knee-jerk reaction and ensuring the integrity of the legislative process. 

It was also heartening to hear Councilwoman Heather Post urge her colleagues to follow the rules and preserve the public trust by allowing council members the opportunity to have all available information before a vote is taken – a call to “step back and do the right thing.” 

In keeping with her position as the intellectual superior on the dais, Councilwoman Barbara Girtman spoke eloquently about the importance of due diligence – a holistic conversation on the issue – citing the fact that the impact of this legislation will affect all areas of unincorporated Volusia County. 

She’s right.

In turn, Chairman Brower balled up his fists and stomped his feet like a recalcitrant child – his cheese slowly slipping off the cracker – as he launched into a weird wide-eyed political rant, essentially screaming “I don’t care what anybody says, I want it today!” while embarrassing himself, his colleagues, and his constituents. 

In my view, it showed a level of political immaturity and an unwillingness to conform to the very rules he advocated whenever violating them becomes politically expedient.

He had a supportive audience – so to hell with the concept of basic fairness and established protocol – make political hay while the sun shines, right?

It was testy, confusing, and ugly. 

At the end of the day, Chairman Brower got his way and the council voted to stop enforcement action for now – to the rousing applause of the special interests in attendance.   

We were promised this asininity was going to stop. 

So, what gives? 

And don’t give us any of that “time sensitive” sense of urgency bullshit, Ms. Wheeler – this issue has been talked to death – repeatedly kicked down the road – with plenty of time to have placed it on an agenda. 

Special thanks to those members of the Volusia County Council who took a stand for good governance over involuntary political impulse when making an important decision that affects everyone in Volusia County.

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

Change is coming? Don’t hold your breath. . .

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying “change is the only constant in life.”

Clearly, Heraclitus never called the Halifax area home. . . 

The Daytona Beach Resort Area has long suffered from a lack of civic vision – a decades old identity crisis framed by competing images of a free-for-all honky-tonk beer bash and an idyllic family friendly beachside vacation spot. 

It’s neither.

The fact is, beyond “special events” or a day at our overregulated beach, there simply isn’t much to do here.   

For instance, a cursory internet search for “Things to do in Daytona Beach with Kids,” includes fun excursions like, The Daytona Beach Flea and Farmers Market, Tanger Outlets, “Beach Street,” the Volusia Mall, and Ritchey Plaza. . . 

How about taking the kids to the world-famous Boardwalk (#8 on the list)? 

Been down there lately?  Me neither. . . 

Last week, the age-old debate of how to resuscitate our decomposing core tourist area was rekindled – this time by Duane Winjum, the latest general manager of The Plaza Resort – the 110-year-old Grande Dame of Daytona Beach hotels at the intersection of Seabreeze Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue.

I always find it bittersweet when a newcomer to our area sees the malignant blight and dilapidation, fetid byproducts of the economic stagnation that has plagued areas of our community for decades, and announce they are going to “do something” about it.  

Their hearts are in the right place – and those who come here from areas where things are ‘happening’ – naturally question why that same civic exuberance and pride in place cannot catch here.

And we hope against hope that things will be different this time.    

That something – anything – will change. . .

Recently, the owners and management of The Plaza scored a small, but significant, victory when they successfully got Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry off his ass and on the street to meet some folks that he was totally unfamiliar with – his constituents. 

In December, Mayor Henry joined Bob Davis, president of the Lodging & Hospitality Association, and Jonathan Abraham Eid, CEO of Vienna Capital, the Los Angeles based investment group that owns The Plaza, to get some dust on the wingtips during a walking tour of “Party Central” on Seabreeze Boulevard. 

According to an excellent article by reporter Jim Abbott in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Envisioning a Renaissance,” some Seabreeze business owners were excited to meet Mayor Henry for the first time and seized the rare opportunity to share their thoughts on how to improve things – while another felt like an afterthought “…we’re forgotten over here a lot.  We don’t seem to get any of the attention.”

Astute observations by long-suffering beachside merchants who stand like street urchins, gazing across the filthy Seabreeze bridge at the millions-of-dollars in public funds being lavished on all the right last names for the “revitalization” of Beach Street, as they lament, “What are we, chopped liver?”

On Sunday, News-Journal editor Pat Rice used his weekly column to tout Mr. Winjum’s enthusiasm – while quelling persistent rumors that strategic rot has been used to drive beachside property values into the basement bargain bin (like the tactic employed in Downtown Daytona) making local waterfront properties among the cheapest (yet least desirable) anywhere on the east coast of the United States.  

According to Mr. Rice, “Unfortunately, there is no conspiracy. The core beachside’s sorry state is largely a result of local government neglect.”   

That is true – but why?

To whose benefit?

I mean, what kind of person would force their neighbors to live in squalor to pull off a profit?   

I happen to agree with Mr. Rice’s assessment that both the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County have failed to put the necessary effort into establishing a blueprint for the revitalization of our challenged beachside and beyond.

I also agree that “revitalizing Seabreeze Boulevard could be a catalyst for Daytona’s struggling core beachside.”

So could a wrecking ball and bulldozer. . .

But that is going to take more than idle chat – it will require a complete transformation at City Hall – redevelopment efforts that reclaim empty windows, focus on infill, and build vibrant streetscapes that attract and retain businesses and residents. 

Let’s face it, the list of those who have accepted public funds then dashed our hopes on the rocks of incompetency, crushed the dreams of entrepreneurial investors, erected bureaucratic obstructions, regulated anything fun out of business, or turned their backs when small business needed help is long and distinguished. 

So please excuse me if I do not share Mr. Winjum’s high expectations for the rebirth of Seabreeze Boulevard. 

It is a noble effort, but we have seen it all before. . . 

Change comes slow in these parts – and sometimes it never comes at all.

Angels & Assholes for February 12, 2021

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.

Asshole           The Downtown Daytona Development Cabal

If you want proof positive that our ‘powers that be’ – you know, those uber-wealthy and politically connected few who The Daytona Beach News-Journal once called our “Rich and Powerful” – could give two-shits about the quality of life of Halifax area residents, just reread Eileen Zaffiro-Kean’s March 2019 article, “Daytona Beach looks to clear way for private development on City Island.”

In that informative piece we learned that City “leaders” were, “quietly working behind the scenes” to have long-standing deed restrictions removed on downtown riverfront property “…so they can ink deals with private developers interested in the public land.”

Apparently, the scheme was so quiet that even “plugged-in community leaders” were left in the dark. . . 

The deed restrictions on these beautiful spoil islands are over a century old now and require that the land be held for the exclusive use of the public – forever.

Yeah, right.  

In late 2018, Governor Ron DeSantis and his Cabinet agreed to lift all deed restrictions on 97 acres east of Beach Street – including City Island – so long as the City of Daytona Beach agreed to pony up $8.77 million to the State of Florida.

At the time, state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff and other local legislators vowed to have the public use mandate removed without requiring Daytona Beach to pay anything.

Then, last week we learned that the Florida Cabinet unanimously voted to lift the deed restrictions on a small parcel of publicly owned waterfront land near Halifax Harbor Marina – no strings attached (beyond a paltry $100,000 donation to something called the state’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund.)

Everything else about the change is clear as river mud – and no one who should seems to know anything about the future of the .41-acre slice of heaven on the banks of the Halifax – a parcel which sits just south of the controversial (and highly desired) City Island property which (I think) is still governed by the public use deed restrictions. 

In fact, when the News-Journal questioned members of what I affectionately refer to as The Downtown Daytona Development Cabal – a shadowy confederation of self-serving political insiders with all the right last names and a chip in the game – they collectively sounded like Sergeant Hans Schultz:

“I see nothing!  I hear nothing!  I know nothing!”

Weird. 

“A few people heavily involved with downtown development, including Brown & Brown chairman J. Hyatt Brown, said they’re not aware of any current ideas or active proposals.”

My ass.

It is no secret that the Grand Plan for the private development of City Island and adjacent public lands has been in place for years – so don’t expect anyone to ask for your input in the planning or design – because it’s a done deal. . . 

That became evident way back in 2017 when Jim Chisholm said publicly, “There is a project looking at land around the ball field.  The city owns a lot of land around it. They’re looking at condos, hotels, dining, mixed use. People come in with big ideas all the time.”

“Chisholm said he’s been “in discussions” for seven or eight months on ideas for city-owned City Island property, but there’s “nothing in writing” yet.”

Then, two years later, the News-Journal reported, “…the City Island courthouse site was stirring investor interest, and that Chisholm was talking with county officials about what could become of that courthouse property.”

Apparently, those same “county officials” had no idea what Mr. Chisholm was talking about. . . 

At that time, our hapless elected and appointed officials at Volusia County claimed they were ambushed – kept totally out of the loop by Mr. Chisholm – which prompted a terse letter to Governor DeSantis reminding him that the County of Volusia owns City Island – not the City of Daytona Beach. 

Whatever.

In my view, it is this complete lack of transparency – or any reasonable oversight by the Daytona Beach City Commission – that allows Mr. Chisholm to run roughshod over everyone.    

“Attempts to gather more information about the property on the western bank of the riverfront with phone calls and emails late last week to the city manager, city spokeswoman and city attorney were unsuccessful. None of them responded.”

Wow. 

How can anyone – including Mayor Derrick ‘Il Duce’ Henry and his fellow marionettes on the Daytona Beach City Commission – find this abject arrogance by a recipient of public funds remotely appropriate? 

Within hours of learning that state deed restrictions had been mysteriously lifted by the governor’s cabinet, City Manager Jim Chisholm and his public disinformation staff pulled the shade and locked the door, sequestering themselves in the inner sanctum at City Hall – refusing to return calls and correspondence from the working press – adding to the confusion and speculation. 

This is what happens when a city manager is permitted to give the figurative middle finger to his feckless “bosses” on the dais of power – and ignore taxpaying residents and the local media with no political accountability or external oversight.

Unfortunately, nothing is going to change for the immediate future. 

In my view, this latest revelation adds to the speculation as to why Mr. Chisholm’s services have been retained for another 90-days (at least) as the elected officials continue to drag their clay feet on finding his replacement. 

Angel               Palm Coast City Councilman Eddie Branquinho

To say Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton’s tenure has been an unmitigated shit show is an understatement.

From rumors of a federal investigation into the loosey-goosey relationship between city government and the private sector – to the very real spectacle of Mr. Morton publicly butchering the careers of any civil servant who raises their head to challenge the status quo – his tyrannical antics continue to erode public trust in City Hall.   

In my view, Mr. Morton has now exposed himself as either a weak-kneed Caspar Milquetoast, afraid of his own shadow, or he is actively exploiting our current social and political discord to further alienate the local government from those it ostensibly exists to serve. 

Throwing the normal prerequisite of a clear and present threat aside, Mr. Morton has unilaterally authorized the allocation of taxpayer funds to place armed guards on the Palm Coast City Hall campus – and order that all citizens pass through a metal detector before conducting their business inside the publicly owned building. 

According to an excellent article in FlaglerLive.com, Mr. Morton mewled, “…the national, political landscape and the climate unfortunately has impacts across the country. We’ve had a few incidents in city hall that seem to have been escalating over the last year, I would call them confrontations. Traditionally we’ve asked staff to de-escalate those confrontations. They’ve gotten to the point where it’s inappropriate for staff to be put in that position of de-escalating. . .”

Say what? 

The January “confrontation” cited by Morton involved a middle-aged man wearing a “Don’t tread on me” t-shirt, who refused to wear a facemask upon entering the building – then stomped around, full of bluster, indignation, and hot air – disobeying a receptionist and bullying a few cowed “supervisors” until two sheriff’s deputies confronted him.

The man was disobedient – not dangerous.

After a brief discussion with the law enforcement officers, he left without incident. 

No arrest.  No trespass warning.  No request for identification. 

He just walked off. 

How would an armed security guard have ended that “confrontation” any differently – with a double-tap to the head? 

Apparently, the dustup – which Morton affectedly called a “situational moment” – occurred just before the start of a Palm Coast City Council meeting – a forum where we have witnessed far worse bullying and bluster. . .

As a result of this chilling act of civil disobedience by some unidentified malcontent with his proverbial knickers in a twist – the good citizens of Palm Coast can now expect their city hall complex to take on all the earmarks of an armed encampment. 

Fortunately, Palm Coast City Councilman Eddie Branquinho, a former Newark, N.J. police officer, sees Morton’s gross overreaction as bad policy, one that “…sends the wrong message to the public at large.”

He’s right. 

According to the FlaglerLive report, Councilman Branquinho “said he recently got a call from a resident asking him “why do we need security at the door of City Hall. I couldn’t answer the question,” he said.”

Rather than have a reasonable safety and security plan in place for City Hall – one that incorporates appropriate physical security postures and response protocols while balancing the rights of citizens trying to conduct business and participate in their government – for the next 90-days, Morton plans to turn the complex  into a super-maximum-security citadel where he and his subordinate bureaucrats can effectively hide behind a phalanx of armed agents, far removed from the pesky annoyance of agitated citizens.

After this three-month “trial,” Morton anticipates the Palm Coast City Council will rubberstamp his expensive and overreaching safety plan – making armed security a permanent part of the city hall experience. . . 

Bullshit.

Kudos to Palm Coast Councilman Eddie Branquinho for having the guts to stand against Mayor Melissa Holland and other acquiescent elected representatives who immediately rolled over for Morton’s draconian measures.

We need more representatives like Mr. Branquinho – men and women who are not afraid to question the oppressive motivations of tin-pot autocrats who use public funds and fearmongering to insulate themselves from legitimate discourse and debate.    

We live in a time when the subjects of the realm are increasingly willing to trade their God-given freedom for a false sense of government supplied “security” – giving over their liberties to the likes of frightened little men like Matt Morton – spineless martinets who exploit political tumult to further drive a wedge between elected and appointed officials and those they serve. 

In the meantime, it appears the tail will continue to wag the dog in Palm Coast. . . 

Quote of the Week

“It is a sad commentary when the only major concession requested was not by our own (Ormond Beach) commission, but rather by the outside citizens group Dream Green Volusia. Such requests could have included enlarging the buffer along the byway, decreased density/increased lot sizes (which would help save trees, reduce traffic, and increase property values, bringing in more city revenue), reduction of the speed limit, and employing Low-Impact Development methods to land not yet cleared. The commission’s inaction in bargaining was a missed opportunity.

Yet — the city still has the option to chip in a percentage of the funds needed to purchase the land. Compared to previous expenditures – such as $730,000 purchase of the Riverside Church, $1.3 million on a floating dock, and $900,000 for a bait shop — a fraction of the total purchase price of $1.3 million purchase price would be nominal.

Preserving the Loop is an overwhelmingly public mandate, and the 36 acres would provide a nice corridor within this very treasured place in Ormond Beach.  Our hope is that the county is able to procure the funds for the land purchase, and we hope the city will seize the opportunity to provide additional assistance.”  

–Ken and Julie Sipes, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “City has ‘skin in the game,” Monday, February 8, 2021

And Another Thing!

They say one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. 

In today’s grim coronavirus-wracked economy, there are a lot of predators and prey out there. . .

This week it was announced that Hard Rock Daytona owner Abbas Abdulhussein recently acquired the beachfront Nautilus Inn for a reported $8 million through his Asante Asset Management, LLC. 

For decades, the Nautilus Inn was owned, operated, and meticulously cared for by the DeNure family of Ontario, Canada, who used the property as a base for their successful touring company.

The hotel served as an excellent example of how a well-maintained oceanfront resort hotel with a sustainable business model can build a loyal clientele, and significantly contribute to our local economy, without expecting publicly funded corporate welfare and other “inducements” that negatively impact the quality of life of area residents.   

According to reports, international border closures associated with the pandemic have had a devastating impact on the DeNure’s travel enterprise, and “…virtually eliminated the influx of Canadian snowbirds to Volusia County. . .” 

Unfortunately, it appears the DeNure’s were forced to get out from under the hotel while the getting was good. . .

It is no secret that Mr. Abdulhussein’s extended transformation of the notorious Desert Inn was not without controversy – primarily surrounding the loss of 410’ of beach driving behind the hotel – a public amenity that was given away by a previous iteration of the Volusia County Council.   

The who and why of that regretful public policy decision remains open to speculation – but the issue was recently resurrected when our new Chairman Jeff Brower met with Mr. Abdulhussein – apparently to discuss returning beach driving and access to the strand behind the Hard Rock Daytona.

During a recent discussion with some long-time locals (none of whom have patronized or recommended the Hard Rock as a form of protest), most told me that if the traffic-ban were repealed they would consider it a gesture of good faith by Mr. Abdulhussein, something that would positively change their attitude toward the hotel. 

In my view, having the support and word-of-mouth endorsement of Halifax area residents in this challenged hospitality market is good for business.

My sincere hope is that with the acquisition of the Nautilus Inn, Mr. Abdulhussein will refrain from returning for another drink at the well as he sets about rebranding the property. 

In the eyes of many Volusia County taxpayers – any attempt to secure additional “inducements” should be met with a vastly different answer from our current county council members.   

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

The Bureaucratic Magician

The unique vantage point that forms my weird opinions on the issues of the day comes from over thirty years surviving and observing the machinations of local bureaucracies – learning the prestidigitations of small-town politics as I clawed my way to middle management and hung on by my fingernails.

I certainly do not have any preternatural insight – I simply know the tricks and illusions of the bureaucratic magician – an art always performed with more misdirection than abracadabra. . .

It is this polished sleight-of-hand that leaves taxpayers (and newly elected politicians) standing outside the fortified portcullis of government – trying in vain to wipe away the grease and grime from the opaque window – desperately clamoring for a glimpse inside. 

The fact is, it is not that hard to figure out the maneuvering and intrigues when you apply the principle of Occam’s razor to any analysis of local government, a scientific problem-solving technique which says the simplest explanation is usually the right one. 

Trust me.  Most government administrators are not that sophisticated – but they have an incredible survival instinct.

Normally, government slugs along at a snail’s pace – not very nimble and with far too many moving parts to spool-up quickly.  Even simple actions can take months of deliberation and study, the hiring of consultants, commissioning studies, forming political insulation committees, and holding meetings to weigh options – buying time until the final “solution” bears no resemblance to the original goal.

In fact, so much of the mechanics of government are just busywork formalities, a bureaucratic corn maze, designed by upper-level shovel leaners and highly paid contractors who speak in acronyms and complicate most issues far beyond acceptable reason.

I was reminded of that strategy last week when I listened to Volusia County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald put the ether to his gullible bosses on the dais of power – lulling them into an almost paralytic stupor on the issue of simply moving a Votran stop to the First Step Shelter following the tragic death of a client who was killed crossing a dark and foggy stretch of International Speedway Boulevard. 

You could tell Recktenwald’s hypnosis prank had the desired effect on his audience when all seven of our elected representatives began figuratively nodding in unison, like a synod of dashboard bobblehead dogs. . .

Then, on Thursday, Mr. Rectenwald chaperoned a meeting between Chairman Jeff Brower and Abbas Abdulhussein, who owns the controversial Hard Rock Daytona, to discuss the traffic-free beach behind the hotel that Mr. Abdulhussein was gifted by Volusia County back in 2015. 

From the beginning of his campaign, Mr. Brower has stated he wants the poles removed and beach driving restored behind the hotel – and it appears he means it.

Clearly, Mr. Rectenwald was not going to let his newest charge get too far afield without adult supervision. 

After all, we cannot have ungoverned progress breaking out, right?

That might disturb the delicate sensibilities of some uber-wealthy political insider with ulterior motivations. . .

Whatever.

In an excellent piece by reporter Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mr. Recktenwald was quoted:

“To decide anything would require a public meeting and policy decision of the entire County Council, as well as the state and federal permitting agencies,” he said. “No decision could be made without all that being legislated.”

Nevertheless, Recktenwald said it was important for the hotel’s owner and management to meet the new County Council Chair. He also said that the exchange was productive.

“It’s always productive when people get to meet and get to know each other,” Recktenwald said. “This is the first time they have met, so it’s important to get together.”

Priming the crowd for more hoops, hurdles, and obstructions. . .    

In 2015, the ordinances that allowed a past iteration of the Volusia County Council to giveaway something that did not belong to them were crafted with the full support of the ultimate political insider, King J. Hyatt Brown – who patted his loyal minions on their pointy heads and said, “It is a positive step. It is one that we will never regret, and it is a step that in the future we will look back and say, ‘Good job you all.’”

In keeping with tradition, J. Hyatt’s mere presence in the Council Chamber was all it took and the ordinances passed on a 6-1 vote. . .

Of course, the beach driving ban was couched as an “inducement” for the developer to complete the infamous hotel’s renovation to exacting performance standards by a date certain.

In the eyes of many, that didn’t happen.

But after a series of off-the-agenda ambushes, extensions, and a rush to “completion” everything went swimmingly for Mr. Abdulhussein.

By and large, beach driving supporters believe that progress, and the revitalization of our beleaguered core tourist area, can be enhanced when investors and developers embrace and incorporate this unique aspect of our rich heritage.

Others are on the public record stating that a traffic-free beach is the panacea for all our social and economic woes – and that the removal of beach driving represents the only viable way forward in terms of “economic development.”

The difference being that those who have a direct financial interest in opposing beach driving are infinitely more politically influential than us helot’s whose role in this godforsaken artificial economy is to fill menial service jobs and provide a steady flow of tax dollars.

I don’t often agree with Pat Rice of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, but at least some of his Sunday editorial rang true:

“A variety of issues have led to our beach — and especially Daytona Beach’s core beach side area — being one of the most underdeveloped and least prosperous stretches along the East Coast. It will take a LOT more than adding beach driving or decreasing it to cure what ails our beach’s economy.”

It is abundantly clear that further limiting beach driving and access isn’t the answer.

This lack of civic vision, stagnation, blight, and bureaucratic impediments to entrepreneurial investment simply cannot continue.

To his credit, Chairman Brower seems intent on stopping the effective privatization of our beach and returning the draw of beach driving to the strand – and that transformation can begin the minute he realizes that there is no obligation to toe the line and conform to the existing state of affairs.    

In my view, like most tenderfoot politicians, Mr. Brower must find a way around the bureaucratic flypaper that puts time and distance between pressing civic issues and any substantive progress – always ensuring that a diluted version of the original intent can be crafted so that no one in government can ever be held accountable for any conceivable outcome.

(Anyone remember the results of the Beachside Redevelopment Committee?  Me neither. . .)

Make no mistake, Mr. Recktenwald is a master of the bureaucratic arts – with the unique ability to maintain the status quo regardless of who We, The People may elect to represent our interests. 

Because that is how the system works.

My sincere hope is that Mr. Brower, and his fellow elected officials who reached their seats on a promise of returning power to the citizens of Volusia County, will develop the political savvy to recognize when they are being manipulated and patronized – or when their initiatives are being neutered by the sloth-like nature of a massive bureaucracy that feeds on public funds and excretes inefficiency – one desperately in need of reform. 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

_________________________________

Join Barker’s View this afternoon on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm!

We’ll be talking local issues and taking your calls on the fastest two hours in radio!

Join us locally at 1380am “The CAT” or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

If you would like to join the forum, please call in at 386-523-1380 – I look forward to hearing from you! 

Angels & Assholes for February 5, 2021

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.

Angel               Daytona Beach Deputy Police Chief Jennifer Whittet

After three decades in the business, I have developed a theory that you can tell everything you need to know about a law enforcement agency by examining its leadership. 

The character of the leader defines the organization. 

In my view, the Daytona Beach Police Department has been blessed with a series of transformational servant/leaders who have consistently advanced the agency – developing innovative protocols, connecting with the community, selecting a diversity of talent, and adapting advanced technology for more effective and efficient service delivery – always remaining on the cutting edge – never losing focus on the needs of those it serves. 

At just 42 years old, newly appointed Police Chief Jakari Young has proved himself, both operationally and administratively, and has now rightfully reached the pinnacle of a stellar career with the Daytona Beach Police Department.

From my vantagepoint, Chief Young possesses a strategic mind and sharp intellect, honed by a wealth of practical leadership experience, and, most important, he embodies the strength of character and quiet professionalism that instills confidence in those around him. 

Fortunately, Chief Young’s good instincts have elevated Jennifer Whittet to the Deputy Chief position.

A 20-year veteran of the Daytona Beach Police Department, Deputy Chief Whittet has proven herself an outstanding community asset by excelling in positions of increasing trust – gaining knowledge, setting the pace, and earning her way through the ranks.     

Now, the Halifax area is recognizing Deputy Chief Whittet’s wealth of experience, leadership skills, and her inherent willingness to serve others.    

In a wonderful exposé by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we caught a glimpse of the unique challenges faced by Deputy Chief Whittet during her incredibly successful career – and the depth of love and commitment she has for the citizens of Daytona Beach, her subordinates, and the diverse community she serves. 

I can tell you that no one achieves command responsibility in a large, full-service law enforcement agency like DBPD without standing on their own merit, demonstrating honesty and integrity, earning the confidence of others, and embodying the humility, emotional intelligence, adaptive thinking, and creativity required to move the agency to new heights – and Deputy Chief Whittet can take pride in this important career accomplishment. 

She’s a damn good cop, too.

“In 2003, Whittet appeared on “America’s Most Wanted” for the capture of an armed suspect wanted in connection with bank robberies and other felony charges.

A year earlier, in 2002, Whittet was awarded the Medal of Valor. She was recognized for her response to a horrific car accident in December 2001, less than three months after she began working for the Daytona Beach Police Department.”

Impressive.

Deputy Chief Whittet is married to the legendary Volusia County Sheriff’s Sergeant and waterman Jim Whittet – both consummate professionals whose family legacy of selfless service is inspirational.

It is heartening to know that my beloved police service – and the good citizens of Daytona Beach – are in such skilled and capable hands, well situated to meet the challenges of tomorrow.   

Congratulations to Deputy Chief Whittet on this well-deserved promotion!

Asshole           Volusia County Council & Votran

Talk is cheap.  

That’s abundantly true here on Florida’s Fun Coast.    

And that age-old idiom describes me to a tee.  

If I had the courage of my oh-so-haughty convictions, I would volunteer, donate to a charitable cause, or work for positive change, getting my hands dirty, down in the trenches with those intrepid civic activists who selflessly put their time, money, and effort into improving our quality of life.

I don’t.

Like the sluggish bureaucracies and apathetic politicians that I complain about, my hypocrisy knows no bounds. . .

However, sometimes the callous indifference of government shocks even my limited moral awareness.

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council failed to demand substantive action on an issue of life and death – choosing instead to play politics with the City of Daytona Beach – while a representative of our public transportation service explained all the reasons why adding or moving a bus stop following the tragic death of a First Step Shelter client was too cumbersome and expensive to accomplish with reasonable speed and efficiency.   

Then, County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald mumbled something about talking to Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm, the Florida Department of Transportation, and a few First Step board members about “solutions” to “mitigate an unsafe situation” at First Step – of course, he assured the elected officials that everyone is working “diligently.”

Of course they are because time is of the essence, right?

When it came down to getting answers, Mr. Recktenwald felt it would not be “productive” to discuss what those “solutions” were – choosing instead to let these sloth-like bureaucracies develop individual “plans.”

Whatever.   

Then, a manager with Votran, had the unmitigated balls to tell the Volusia County Council that it would cost $10,000 to construct a simple bus stop at FSS. 

Bullshit.

Considering that most Votran stops are little more than a post in the ground with a sign attached, I found that hard to believe – especially when the estimate came from the same public transportation company that once told us it would cost $900,000 to place a stop at Tanger Outlets. . .   

When Chairman Jeff Brower asked what could be done to correct the problem today – his question was met with more gibberish about how much time it takes the molasses-like agility of Votran to get up to speed (on anything) – and why FSS residents might not qualify for their “Gold Service” for disabled persons, blah, blah, blah. 

Jesus.  

After kicking it around with a liberal application of governmentese, it was essentially agreed that it was the First Step Shelter’s problem to resolve. . .

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Councilmembers Billie Wheeler and Ben Johnson said working with First Step was the clear answer.

“Daytona chose the site,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think it’s for us to shift Votran around because that’s not going to solve the problem.”

“We just keep throwing money out and we can’t do that. Sometimes people have to solve their own problems,” Johnson said.”

I suppose they are right – the $10,000 Votran estimates it would cost to make a quick stop at FSS far outweighs the price of protecting the flotsam and jetsam of society that find their way to a homeless assistance center. . .

I mean, we have important things to consider, like spending our way deeper into the SunRail debacle and implementing Amendment 10, right? 

Right. . .  

Anyone see a pattern here?

At the end of the day, no one on the dais of power demanded action – and absolutely nothing of substance happened – as our elected representatives sat on their thumbs and lectured the City of Daytona Beach, and the First Step Shelter, on their obligations.

So, until First Step Shelter can get its shit together and find a timely solution to its limited in-house transportation service, residents will be required to dodge four lanes of heavy traffic on dark and foggy mornings to get to the Red John Road bus stop on the opposite side of busy US-92.

Fortunately, program participants are not without options.

They can hike the half-mile east, through the weeds, and rain, and muck on the shoulder of the highway – literally to the middle of nowhere – where the closest Votran stop on the south side of ISB is located.    

And that, gentle readers, is how government and its ancillary “services” use hot air, foot-dragging, and finger pointing to effectively shrug off a rapid response to a compound tragedy.

It is an effective strategy that puts time and distance between controversial issues and the various government entities responsible, deferring conclusive action until no one gives two-shits. 

Do you think anyone other than her grieving 10-year-old daughter will remember the death of Ashly Baker in six-weeks?

How about two-years from now at election time? 

The fact is, Volusia County has coldheartedly sidestepped the issue of homelessness for decades – choosing instead to throw our hard-earned tax dollars at others with the courage to do something to help.

Tragic. 

There is another adage I’m fond of: The more things change, the more they stay the same.  

Asshole           State of Florida/County of Volusia    

When I was a young police officer, I worked for a prickly chief who would restore my bearing by screaming, “Barker, get your head out of your ass!”

I never forgot the message he was trying to convey:

Confusion results from mixed-messages – visual, aural, sensory inputs, and external information that does not line up with expectations – a condition that disorients and degrades our situational awareness, resulting in misperceptions, something that can prove deadly in critical circumstances.

We saw that principle in action on Monday afternoon when Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post took to social media in an attempt to assist frustrated constituents still competing for an elusive COVID-19 vaccination appointment, encouraging them to use the State of Florida’s new www.myvaccine.fl.gov online preregistration platform. 

Then, on Tuesday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported just the opposite – in a front page/above the fold piece entitled, “Volusia not adopting COVID-19 registration system yet.”

The article by reporter Nikki Ross clearly stated that “Volusia County isn’t yet using the state’s new coronavirus vaccine preregistration system, causing tension with residents who used the new system and thought they were finally on the waiting list for the highly coveted vaccine.”

By Wednesday, the News-Journal’s Mary Helen Moore published a front-page explanatory piece under the headline, “Volusia: Start using state site to get vaccine.” 

“Volusia County residents qualifying for the coronavirus vaccine are encouraged to sign up now on the statewide COVID-19 registration system, even though it won’t be used locally for another two weeks.

“You’re in line the moment you complete your application,” Volusia County’s public protection director Joe Pozzo said.

The state of Florida launched the preregistration system Friday, but Volusia County will use Eventbrite for all currently planned vaccination events until it can train staff and get the necessary hardware.”

The article contained a quasi-explanation from some heavy hitters, including Volusia County’s public protection director Joe Pozzo, chief mouthpiece Kevin Captain, and Councilwoman Post.

“They (the state) just posted it,” Post said. “I think it was a surprise to many counties. It is what it is. This is where we’re at.”

Wow. 

Look, I’m sure this will all work out – and I know Councilwoman Post has our best interests at heart (although I am not sure she, or the county’s public information apparatus, has grasped the concept of information coordination during a declared emergency) – but given the abject dysfunction of the vaccine rollout at all levels of government, this latest snafu does not inspire confidence. . .

With tens-of-millions in CARES Act funds being spent on everything under the sun by local governments statewide, one would expect that a few bucks could be allocated to develop and communicate an effective system for registering citizens for this potentially lifesaving vaccine.

Right?

Instead, we have been subjected to recurring misinformation, half-truths, excuses, and official apologies – resulting in quibbling and finger pointing as one level of bureaucracy starts feeling sorry for itself and blames the one above it.

For those seeking the vaccine, that means more frustrating double-talk.

And confusion reigns supreme. . .    

According to Wednesday’s News-Journal report:

“Some of Florida’s 67 counties are already using the system.

“Our understanding was they rolled it out to those counties that had no other method of registration,” according to Randa Matusiak, who coordinates special projects for the county’s public protection department. “They were rolling it out to those smaller counties.”

“We already had something in place, so they went to those counties that have a greater need,” county spokesman Kevin Captain added.”

So, sign up on Florida’s MyVaccine site now, I guess? 

Even though it will not be used by Volusia County for another two-weeks (?) – or something like that? 

For a better explanation, call the Volusia County Citizen Information Center at 866-345-0345 and demand clarification – if you can get anything other than a busy signal. . .   

Whatever. 

For now, it appears the scavenger hunt for appointments continues.

That’s disappointing news for Volusia County’s most vulnerable residents desperate for a chance at life outside lockdown.

Quote of the Week

“I’ve seen some messed up stuff in my 87 years, but trying to get a COVID-19 shot in Florida takes the cake. I’m supposed to head to ball fields, fairgrounds, and heavens knows where else, to wait in the cold for 3-4 hours only to be told there’s no room at the inn. I’m guessing 90% of those over 65 are on Medicare and have a primary physician. Doesn’t it make more sense to provide these physicians the vaccine and have their staff notify their patients in an orderly fashion to make an appointment to come in for their shot?”

–George F. Ritchie, Daytona Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Make it easier,” Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Amen, Mr. Ritchie.  Well said.

And Another Thing!

They say cold is the great equalizer.

Hypothermia kills indiscriminately when the human body loses heat faster than it can produce it.

When the temperatures dipped into the 30’s and 40’s this week, my wife and I built a roaring fire, drank hot toddies, and slept comfortably under a pile of warm blankets.

Others in Volusia County were not so fortunate. 

Hundreds of homeless people huddled in the palmetto scrub, the doorways of vacant businesses, and miserable makeshift campsites trying desperately to get out of the biting wind – to escape the merciless cold – fighting hard to retain heat faster than the frigid temperature could take it away. 

Wait a minute, Barker.  Stow that maudlin crap. 

Don’t you remember that area taxpayers spent millions-of-dollars for a homeless assistance center out in the boondocks off International Speedway Boulevard? 

It’s a big deal.  A giant, heated building that could accommodate all comers – you know, if it weren’t for this damn Coronavirus. . .       

Why, just a few weeks back, the multilevel management of the First Step Shelter set up a rudimentary “cold weather option” at its outdoor “safe zone” – complete with portable heaters on loan from Daytona International Speedway so a whopping 24 homeless people wouldn’t suffer the deadly effects of exposure.

What more do you want?

Well, that option did not work out so well this week.

Apparently, Daytona International Speedway examined their priorities and determined that they needed their portable heaters back – I mean, screw the homeless – especially when the baked brie canapés need to be maintained at room temperature for the Taste of the 24 crowd, right? 

Hell, anything less would be, well, gauche.

My God. . .

Look, it is not Daytona International Speedway’s fault – they generously loaned the shelter the heaters – and that comes with the expectation that, at some point, DIS was going to need them back.

Normally, that is where the concept of strategic planning comes into play. 

Which begs the question – with just 38 cold weather beds available countywide this week – why didn’t the First Step Shelter purchase its own portable heaters when it had the buffer?  

You know, take some of that $1.1 million in CARES Act funds they were gifted and spend it on something that would benefit those they exist to serve – couch it as a means of separating potential Coronavirus victims from full-time shelter residents, get creative, its play money, no one cares – just show some consistency and common human compassion when it comes to sheltering and protecting the homeless population. 

Yeah, right. . .

The fact is, First Step Shelter isn’t about serving the needs of those living on the street – it’s as far from a low-barrier, come-as-you-are “shelter” (you know, like we were promised) as one can get. 

On the GovStuf Live! public affairs radio program yesterday, the First Step Shelter Board’s Vice-Chair Dwight Selby spoke of the horrors the facility experienced during the last cold snap when it accepted a bus load of homeless persons into the outdoor “safe zone.”

He said weapons were found in some backpacks during the obligatory search of all who enter – and many were so intoxicated they could not stand – while others urinated and defecated on the concrete pad upon which they slept. 

Where was the tight security we pay for?

Whatever.

I’m not sure what Mr. Selby expected – a group of socialites on an overnight from the Jacqueline Whitmore School of Etiquette?

I didn’t get the impression from the sound of Mr. Selby’s voice that street people would be welcomed back to First Step anytime soon.

What a damnable, and continuing, disservice. 

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

Giving Credit – Where Credit is Due

During my productive years, I belonged to a prestigious international organization of police executives. 

Each year, we would gather in some ostentatious ballroom, dressed in our finery, and listen to umpteen boring speeches, all while waiting patiently for the annual Grand Award to be bestowed on someone in the association’s upper strata – a well-deserved accolade, plaque, and applause – that commemorated some important contribution or another. 

Six Martinis deep into the evening, I would invariably wait until the exact second the honoree’s name was called – then theatrically rise from my chair, drawing the attention of everyone in the room, as though a do-nothing like me were receiving the Big Prize – a yearly jape that resulted in the howls of my equally drunk tablemates – and the headshaking annoyance of those who take these things oh-so-seriously.

It never got old.  For me, anyway. . .   

Why would anyone do that?

Because I’m an asshole – and pretentious pomp and circumstance always bore me to tears.      

I share this because the much-anticipated Halifax area “Awards Season” is upon us and, once again, your intrepid scribe failed to make the cut. . . 

Yep.  Snubbed again by the ‘powers that be’ who select the winners and losers in our community. 

I’m joking, of course. 

But at least I am in good company. 

I know many committed civic activists, volunteers, helpers, behind-the-scenes problem solvers and unsung heroes whose good efforts go unnoticed and underappreciated time-and-again – all while the same last names are repeatedly rewarded by their “Rich & Powerful” peers.

I get it.  

And I am not diminishing the philanthropic work of those who continually receive these tributes – without the financial largesse of our local donor class we would truly be in a fix – but just once I would like to see those nameless community servants who give so much of themselves, while expecting nothing in return, receive the recognition they so richly deserve. 

Giving credit where credit is due, this year there were some bright spots on the “virtual” awards circuit (which, I guess, involves getting dressed in an expensive suit, decorating your living room in gaudy drapery, overcooking a frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu, and watching the festivities on Zoom?)    

For instance, I was happy to see that the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce bestowed the celebrated “Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler J. Hyatt Brown Enterprise Award” to those healthcare professionals from our region who have so heroically held the line in the fight against COVID-19.

Well-deserved. 

In addition, the Chamber’s “Glenn Ritchey Community Service Award” rightfully went to philanthropist and tireless advocate for our hungry and homeless, Forough Hosseini, Founder and Chair of Food Brings Hope. 

An appropriate recognition for Mrs. Hosseini, whose charitable efforts and leadership helped Hope Place become such a resounding success in service to homeless families in Volusia County. 

Then, things took an unfortunate turn.

This week it was announced that the Community Foundation of Volusia/Flagler has posthumously honored civil rights leader and founder of Bethune-Cookman University Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune – a most deserving recognition for this inspirational community leader and visionary educator whose foundational work continues to change the lives of others.

Oddly, the Community Foundation – the fundraising arm of the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties – also announced that Dr. Bethune’s beloved memory will share the 29th annual Herbert M. Davidson Memorial Award with Joe Petrock, a local civic dandy who has led the Halifax Health Foundation for two-decades.

Look, I’m not knocking Mr. Petrock’s significant contributions – but, in my view, Dr. Bethune’s legacy stands alone – a heritage of courageous service that demands independent recognition.   

In 2014, Mr. Petrock and his wife bequeathed $1 million to Bethune-Cookman University, apparently for expanded health-related academic programs at the university and expanded services in Daytona’s Midtown community.

The following year, he was appointed Chairman of BC-U’s Board of Trustees. 

I haven’t always been kind to Mr. Petrock in this space – frankly, I was put off by his “I have done nothing wrong” departure from the board amidst a raging financial and academic conflagration that resulted in crippling lawsuits and claims of corruption against former B-CU president Dr. Edison O. Jackson – a horrific period of failed leadership and abject greed that saw this historical community asset brought to its knees.    

“I was just a member of the board. We weren’t given all the information,” Petrock repeatedly explained as he fled the scene.

Trust me.  Mr. Petrock was not alone. 

The list of our area ‘movers-n-shakers’ who failed to maintain a fiduciary overwatch on the University’s finances is long and distinguished. . .  

In my opinion, the Community Foundation has diminished Dr. Bethune’s significant and historic contributions by relegating her memory to “co-recipient” status.  

That doesn’t sit right with me – and it needs to be corrected.

In my view, Dr. Bethune’s monumental legacy is sui generis – it stands alone on the international stage.  

As our state and nation prepare to welcome Dr. Bethune’s sculpture to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, memorializing her legendary pursuit of justice, equality, and educational opportunities for all – honoring one woman’s visionary dream that has had such a significant and indelible impact on our nation – I believe she deserves better.   

The Matriarch of our community should not be required to share the spotlight with anyone.  

Healing Old Wounds

While the Daytona Beach News-Journal continues to rehash the age-old beach driving debate, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower – who defeated his entrenched opponent by over 40,000 votes on a pro-beach driving platform – is proving to be a man of his word. 

In a Sunday opinion piece entitled, “The chair’s gambit,” the News-Journal’s editorial board teased it will soon release the results of the tired beach driving question recently posed by editor Pat Rice.

Meh.  Asked and answered – a thousand times. 

By all means, let’s kick the issue around one more time, you know, in case there is someone just returning from the dark side of the moon who didn’t realize the influence beach driving had on the last County Chair election. . .   

In fact, if the autopsy of former Councilwoman Deb Denys’ failed campaign for County Chair did not determine that her flip-flop on beach driving was the manner and cause of the demise of her political career – perhaps the News-Journal should exhume the corpse and have another look. . .  

Regardless of the fact beach driving is supported by the overwhelming majority of those who vote in Volusia County, I suspect Mr. Rice will attempt to couch “the flood of reader responses”  as a middle-of-the-road, neither all-in nor all-out analysis, that will perpetuate the age-old debate while supporting the current beach management strategy of using driving and access as a cheap spiff for speculative developers, while still allowing the unique tradition on a precious few miles of the strand. 

From the beginning, Chairman Brower made it abundantly clear that beach driving was a priority, so it came as no surprise when we learned he turned down an opportunity to speak at the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach – which became the symbolic epicenter of the beach access debate when, after countless delays and a rush to completion, the developer was gifted 410 feet of traffic-free beach by Volusia County.

Despite the hew and cry of angry taxpayers, the wrongful closure behind Hard Rock was marked by crews driving treated wooden poles into the sand – each leeching pesticides and chemicals identified as human carcinogens (on a public beach?) – “poison poles” which added to the pollution of “do this/don’t do that” signage and other obstructions that has ruined the visual aesthetics of our most important natural amenity.   

Trust me.  Had Chairman Brower accepted the invitation to the Hard Rock, those constituents who supported his beach driving stance with their sacred vote would have lambasted the move as the ultimate in hypocrisy. 

Instead, Mr. Brower has created an opportunity to sit down with the owners and management of Hard Rock – a discussion many hope will result in a reversal of the controversial beach driving ban – an olive branch that will result in many locals embracing and supporting the resort property rather than vilifying the hotel as another example of corporate greed.   

In typical fashion, the News-Journal editorial board used the opportunity to question Mr. Brower’s motivations while lavishing the developer with praise – completely rewriting history – with, “First, any discussion of restoring driving to this one small section of beach has to be grounded in the reality that Abdulhussein has done nothing wrong.”

Of course not.

In 2015, at the direction of King J. Hyatt Brown, his handmaidens on the Volusia County Council enacted a series of ordinances which removed beach driving from behind a proposed Hard Rock Hotel – a project that died when the Canadian developer took his football and went home after beach driving advocates filed a lawsuit to preserve this unique aspect of our local heritage.

This dubious “inducement” was then transferred to Abdulhussein’s Summit Hospitality Group when it began the renovation of the infamous Desert Inn – which, after several iterations and off-the-agenda ambushes – transformed into Hard Rock Daytona. 

The beach driving ban specifically required certain performance and amenity standards – drop-dead dates that were repeatedly ignored and extended as the project languished – dragging on interminably – giving the appearance of two guys working on weekends.

Yet, at the end of the day, neither hell nor high water would stop Volusia County from ensuring that the developer was granted the driving ban – and the property was rushed to an almost comical state of “completion” then quickly certified as having crossed the finish line by Hard Rock International and Volusia County officials.

An April 2018 piece by Orlando Weekly summed up the series of events that made a mockery of Volusia County’s “performance” requirements:

“Back in Daytona Beach, the focus has largely been on the beach driving ban. The original timelines the developer was required to meet for the beach driving ban to happen were extended, thanks to Hurricane Matthew.

Part of the issue is around what was exactly required by the hotel. The hotel was required to be certified by the Hard Rock brand by the end of February. That did happen but some residents point to the fact the hotel wasn’t fully open by the date as a potential breach of contract, promising even more legal action.

Even with the potential legal action, Summit Hospitality Management Group moved ahead with their plans to block beach driving behind the new resort. Last week new poles, similar to wooden telephone poles, were installed. The poles block vehicular traffic but still allow pedestrian access.”

Based upon this “kinda/sorta” completion and premature certification – former County Manager Jim Dinneen unilaterally decreed that our century old heritage of beach driving would be permanently (read: forever) removed from the strand behind the hotel.

But at what cost?

In 2018, Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, filed a lawsuit challenging the removal of cars from the beach behind Hard Rock – citing that the developer failed to meet the intent and spirit of those pesky performance and completion requirements detailed in the 2015 ordinance. 

Then, Volusia County pushed back, claiming that the conditions were met when the property was certified by its corporate headquarters. 

In the end, as in times past, the courts determined that Sons of the Beach lacked “standing” – and Hard Rock’s quasi-private beach remained closed to vehicular traffic.

This open dishonesty of Volusia County government – suing taxpayers with their own money and seemingly confederating with a private developer to remove beach access to appease an oligarchical insider – left a festering wound that has never quite healed. 

As a result, many residents refused to patronize the hotel – a sense of ill will that exists to this day – animosity resulting from a sense that the very tradition that makes our area unique was stripped away in a predetermined and wholly unfair process that left a residual “trust issue” which continues to plague Volusia County government to this day. 

I hope Chairman Brower’s efforts to establish a dialog can change that lingering skepticism by righting a wrong and restoring beach driving and access – a move that will both rebuild the public’s trust in its government – and foster a positive, year-round relationship between long-suffering locals and the Hard Rock Daytona. 

It is more than a political gambit – it’s the right thing to do.